BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
March 28, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

Bob Clampett’s “A Gruesome Twosome” (1945)

Here’s some good news with some bad news. The good news—finally, an animator breakdown on a Bob Clampett cartoon! The bad news, however, is that only the first page of the animator draft is available. It’s not such a loss, since the second page only constitutes the last third of the film; animator identifications during these sections will be based on educated guesses.

Bob Clampett’s A Gruesome Twosome features an embryonic version of Tweety, seen here as a flesh-colored newborn bird without feathers, as he appeared in A Tale of Two Kitties (1942) and Birdy and the Beast (1944). The other central characters in this film are the dopey, pot-bellied cat from Birdy and the Beast—this time in a yellow color, and addressed as “Snooks”— and a red cat based on popular entertainer Jimmy Durante (addressed as “Colonel”), as they fight over the affections of a small female cat. The model sheet prepared for A Gruesome Twosome by Tom McKimson, as well as the lobby card, revealed an earlier character design for the rival cat before Clampett decided to utilize a resemblance to the “Great Schnozzola.”

Mel Blanc and Sara Berner (as the girl cat) recorded their dialogue track on February 12, 1944, while another vocal session with Blanc occurred two weeks later on February 26. (Blanc recorded another dialogue track, presumably a pick-up session months later, on December 23.) In between the production and release of this cartoon, the staff changed significantly. Bob McKimson was promoted to director when Frank Tashlin left the studio by August 1944. Rod Scribner was transferred to McKimson’s unit, while Manny Gould and Basil Davidovich were dispatched to a new directorial unit headed by Art Davis. This unit was formed after Clampett left the studio by May 1945, a month before the release of A Gruesome Twosome. The first page of the draft for this cartoon, handwritten by Clampett on an exposure sheet, gives credit to each of the four credited animators in their scenes.

McKimson and Scribner, two animators inherited from Clampett after Tex Avery left the studio in 1941, are both present in the first few scenes of the cartoon. McKimson animates an impressive feat for a Warners cartoon—his footage of scene 2, with the three cats interacting on the fence, lasts about one minute and twenty seconds in a single shot without camera movement. The scene itself does not overstay its welcome. The viewer’s attention is held by its innuendo-riddled dialogue and by McKimson’s strong poses and acting through his solid draftsmanship.

When the yellow cat yanks the Durante cat off the fence, the film cuts to scene 3 with a simulated camera shake. Now, Rod Scribner assumes the animation of the interloping hound that inexplicably appears on-screen to plant a big kiss on the girl cat. Scribner also animates the two suitors pausing their violent fight and her proposal for them to retrieve a little bird. (The inking/assistant work on the girl cat’s close-ups is rather crude, compared to the scenes of “Colonel” and “Snooks.”)

Basil Davidovich and Manny Gould animate much of the hunt between the two cats. Gould arrived at the studio shortly after his termination from Screen Gems in 1941, and Russian-born Basil Davidovich—also a former Screen Gems animator— landed in Clampett’s unit by the fall of 1943. Davidovich’s work during these scenes display a great sense of weight as they race each other. For instance, after the Durante cat sabotages the yellow cat by tying his tail to a heavy iron, it stretches and strains before the heavy object lifts off the surface. When the Durante cat obstructs the dopey yellow cat with a washtub, the iron is pulled back, which strikes the cat and renders him into liquid, as he is poured out onto the ground. Gould animates with more distorted drawings, but more solid than Scribner’s, as evident in his scene of the Durante cat discarding the washtub out of camera range, and reverting back with a telescope.

Gould handles more footage throughout much of the cartoon; he is credited with the two cats spotting Tweety in his nest—with some partial re-used animation from Birdy and the Beast on the yellow cat—and their territorial one-upmanship when they yowl and arch their backs at each other. In scene 28, Gould draws a devilish anticipation pose on the Durante cat, ready to pounce on the singing Tweety, but not before being stopped by his rival. Scribner animates the brief scene of the two cats at their most brutal, even resorting to multiple rounds of gunfire, before the two realize their quarrel is delaying their progress of capturing the tiny bird. As animated by Gould, the Durante cat whispers his method of “stragety” to the yellow cat, prodding his large proboscis into his ear.

The cats’ plan with the floppy, vaudeville horse costume—the purpose of which is never explained—is interrupted again by Tweety, when he agitates a bee, smacking it around with wide-eyed apathy, before he drops it inside their outfit. After swatting the horse’s rear with a big stick, Tweety is seen pulling on the reins, dressed as the Lone Ranger in a cowboy hat and eye mask. Davidovich presumably animated these close-up scenes of Tweety, since the drawing does not fully match the style of Gould or Scribner. Manny Gould animates many of the scenes of the horse costume, including a frenetic succession of drawings when it goes into a wild spinning action before exiting the frame.

Before the two cats can formulate another scheme (animated by Scribner), Tweety incites a bulldog to attack the two cats by smacking him with his own bone (animated by Gould)—his surprised reaction before he is struck again is a nice touch. As the cats are trapped and beaten inside of their costume out into the horizon, Tweety delivers his final line—before morphing into Jimmy Durante—and an innocent, but mischievous smirk to the audience (animated by Scribner).

When the censors reviewed the work print of this cartoon for approval, during the scene of the Durante cat calling Tweety “the naked genius” (a reference to a 1943 Broadway comedy production written by Gypsy Rose Lee), it was noted that the little bird, in fact, appeared naked. When Friz Freleng used Tweety for Tweetie Pie, Tweety was given yellow feathers and became a canary and paired with Sylvester. Tweetie Pie started production around the time of A Gruesome Twosome’s release in June 1945, a month after Clampett left the studio. Freleng’s version of Tweety was not inherently brutal as his first three films, but the general idea—the cloying presence of a tiny, naive child setting up predators for their own suffering—still remained intact.

(Please note: The model sheet, draft and lobby card publicity refer to the film as THE Gruesome Twosome; the on-screen title is A Gruesome Twosome).

Enjoy!

(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Keith Scott, Mark Kausler, Greg Duffell and Michael Barrier for their help.)

21 Comments

  • The original Weekend Pussy Hunt (I’ve waited so long to post this stupid gag….)

    • I bet you did!

  • Just as funny the 90th time!!!

  • Durante, at the time of production and release, had a successful show Friday nights on CBS, where he co-starred with a young Garry Moore (the show that spawned the phrase “Dat’s my boy dat said dat!”).

  • Was it Mel Blanc who voiced “Schnozzola” then? Nice article Devon.

  • Thanks Devon.

    Not just one of Clampett’s best (and rubbery-est), but a true Top Ten contender in the entire Warner catalog.

    The hound near the beginning is priceless.

    Your breakdown clarifies a couple items for me. In particular, I had Scribner for all the rubbery horse costume action.

  • Like most of the classic Robert Clampett theatricals, this is certainly one that should be further examined, frame by frame, especially during that scene in which the two cats, inside the horse costume, are being attacked by *ONE* angry little bee.

    I like Sarah Berner’s voice work on Warner Brothers cartoons. She was at her best in those days, but especially at Warner Brothers. I have yet to hear her overall appearances on radio broadcasts.

    Each time I listen to Warner Brothers cartoons, I notice something I glossed over before. A new favorite is one of the PORKY PIG cartoons, “WE, THE ANIMALS, SQUEAK” – which also features Sarah Berner as Kansas City Kitty in thick Irish brogue – but it is the musical number as the mice trash the place; this cartoon is a surprisingly good remake of Chuck Jones’ “THE NIGHT WATCHMAN”, only this time, it is a mama cat and her little one who are terrorized by the mice; “Shoot the shoibit to me, Hoibit!!”

  • It’s a miracle Jimmy Durante never sued any of the cartoon studios for stealing his schttick. Ha cha-cha-cha!

  • Manny Gould’s scene of the Durante cat tossing the washpan and getting the telescope is a prime example of full, cartoon animation that could only be found in a Bob Clampett cartoon. Anyone else would’ve staged this scene as separate actions (i.e. the washpan is tossed aside, and he pulls the telescope out of his pocket), but Gould and Clampett do it in one sweeping motion. The hell with “The Illusion of Life” and “Survival Kit” ‘everything on 1s to be pure’ bullshit. *THIS* is animation at its best.

  • According to Jerry’s Sylvester & Tweety book, Tweety officially became a “yellow feathered canary” in this film, and in the frames shown in the book, he does look notably more yellow than the previous two films. However, when watching the actual film, he does look more pink. Especially in the bird’s nest scene, which was reused as mentioned.

    Tweetie Pie was started as a second film featuring the woodpecker from “Peck Up Your Troubles”. Take away Tweety’s dialogue, and it’s easy to imagine the woodpecker in his place. The woodpecker was only replaced by Tweety when Clampett left, and Freleng took over the character. Clampett had begun his own film pairing Sylvester and Tweety, and Freleng took the work and combined it with his own project.
    I’ve always wondered what that would have been like, and if Davis’ “Catch as Cats” Can may have borrowed some of the story and gags. Someone should really do a study on that.

    I think Colonel and Schnooks deserve not to have been forgotten, and I always looked for them in those panoramic drawings showing everx Looney Tune character ever made (even one-shots), and it doesn’t seem they were ever thought of.
    I like to think of the similarly colored Durante cat in “Hoppy Daze” as perhaps a rough revival of Colonel; perhaps from the original design, and stylized in the newer 60’s drawing. (Like his ears are tiny, and always shown on the same side of his head). That one ends similarly, with Hippety doing the Durante “a cha cha”. That was by McKimson, of course, and so it may have been done with Gruesome Twosome in mind.

  • As a 60s kid with an 8mm projector, I had a silent home edition with the aap branding. Even in B&W with subtitles it played like gangbusters.

  • “Manny Gould and Basil Davidovich were dispatched to a new directorial unit headed by Art Davis.”

    Not quite. Art Davis took Bob Clampett’s unit after Clampett left, and inherited Manny Gould from him. Basil Davidovich didn’t animate for Davis at the same time as Gould – he was doing a stint in Chuck Jones’ unit at the time.

    • Shoot, you’re right! Sometimes, you get so wrapped up in these things, you miss the finer details that you THINK you know, but end up mucking up the works…

  • The ending mayhem with the two cats and the dog in the horse costume is one of the wildest pieces of animation ever committed to film.

    AND FOITHAMORE!… quick question: What’s the song that plays at 3:55?

    • Ian, that was one cue I’ve wanted to know, too! Luckily, I have the answer: the song is “I Go for You” by M.K. Jerome and Kim Gannon, from the 1944 feature SHINE ON HARVEST MOON.

      You guys might like this, too: this song was also used originally under the main titles for AIN’T THAT DUCKY and PECK UP YOUR TROUBLES.

    • The fact that the two cats don’t get to put another plan into action always did bug me a bit, it’s as if the cartoon was already getting too long and they needed to wrap it up then and there. Not that I wanted some closure to the cats’ goal but something about that always felt a little off to me but maybe I shouldn’t have expected more out of such a silly cartoon.

    • Thanks, Devon! The song also plays in “The Grey Hounded Hare” and “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”.

      It was kind of a missed opportunity that “I Go For You” didn’t play over the opening titles for “I Gopher You”. It would’ve been perfect. Instead they used “Love Ya”.

    • Just played that part, very catchy tine..where Tweety says “I tawt I taw a puddy tat”. Still wondering if Blanc did Colonel Durante (ha!LOL)’s voice.Please answer as it wasn/;t mentioned (Tedd Pierce or Stan Freberg, maybe) Of course Mel is Snooks, the goofy other cat and Sara Berner’s the “goil kitty”!

  • Devon

    What’s your status with the fundraising?

  • One of my favorite scenes in this picture is when the two cats fall to earth from Tweety’s nest but they appear to be ascending to the ground instead of falling. Such a scene reenforces the surreal nature of Clampett’s work.

  • Incidentally Devon, Clampett claimed once that the horse’s ass gag was originally more explicit, with the dopey cat saying “And I’m the horses… uh…” before realizing what he’s about to say and shutting his mouth, but the censors cut it

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